Australia History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of historical events that may have affected your family and their records. Learn about the key events, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends surrounding your ancestors; they may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These historical events may also have led to the creation of records, such as land and military documents, that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting if you also use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, you might learn about events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

The following are some key dates and events in the history of Australia:

1788:The European settlement of Australia began with the English establishment of a penal colony at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson. Its initial population was more than 1,000 convicts and military personnel, known today as "First Fleeters."

1790:The second fleet arrived in June and saved the colony from starvation. The population of the colony numbered more than 1,700.

1791:The third fleet arrived in August to October and included the first Irish transportees. The population of the colony numbered nearly 2,900 and included 87 free settlers, 44 of which were former convicts. The rest of the free settlers were discharged seamen and marines.

1793:The first free settler immigrants arrived in January.

1803:Australia’s first newspaper, the weekly Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, began publication in March.

The first settlement in Van Dieman’s Land (called Tasmania since 1856) was founded at Risdon Cove. The settlement was later moved to the present-day site of Hobart.

1825:Van Dieman’s Land was proclaimed a separate colony, independent of New South Wales.

1826:Registration of births, marriages, and deaths in each parish was required by law.

1828:The first regular census was taken in New South Wales. The population was estimated at 36,598, including 15,728 convicts.

The Swan River area of Western Australia was settled. The following year it was proclaimed a colony, and the site for Perth was selected.

1835:The "bounty" system of assisted immigration began operating.

1836:The Church Act gave all churches equal status.

1836:South Australia was proclaimed a colony, and 1837 the first settlement of Adelaide was established.

1838:New Zealand was proclaimed a colony, independent of New South Wales, on 3 May.

1839:Government-assisted immigration to Australia began.

1840:By "order in council," New South Wales stopped receiving convicts. The order was rescinded by the British government in 1848, but few convicts were received thereafter.

1841: The "bounty" system of assisted immigration ceased operation.

1842:Electoral rolls, a valuable census of those eligible to vote, began to be published each election year in New South Wales. Those for Queensland began to be published in 1852 and those for Tasmania in 1859.

1850s:The Australian Gold Rush brought prospectors and emigrants from all over the world. More than a half million people emigrated to Australia during that decade.

1850:The New South Wales Legislative Council resolved to cease receiving transported convicts. Transportation to eastern Australia ended two years later, and transportation to Western Australia began.

1851:The Port Phillip district officially became the colony of Victoria, independent from New South Wales.

1858:The total population of the five existing colonies surpassed one million.

1859:The colony of Queensland separated from New South Wales.

1863:The area later known as the Northern Territory annexed from New South Wales to South Australia. It remained under South Australian administration until 1911, when the Commonwealth assumed administration.

New Zealand offered free land grants to Australian volunteers to fight in the Second Taranaki War. By the end of the year, 1,475 volunteer military settlers from Australia had gone to New Zealand.

1868:Transportation of convicts to Australia ended. Approximately 160,000 convicts had been sent from Britain.

1901:Australia became a Commonwealth.

1911:The Australian Capital Territory was vested, and the Commonwealth took over the administration of the Northern Territory.

1917:The transcontinental railway was completed.

The Family History Library has many published national, state, and local histories for Australia. You can find these histories by looking in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




The following are only a few of the many historical sources that are available. Some may be found in major research libraries.

  • Andrews, Michael. Australia Year By Year: A concise history of Australia since 1770. Sydney, Australia: Trocadero Publishing, 1984. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2am.)
  • Barker, Anthony W. What Happened When: A chronology of Australia, 1788–1990. St. Leonards, N.S.W., Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1992. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2ba.)
  • Bassett, Jan. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Australian History. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1986. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H26b.)
  • Clark, Charles Manning Hope. A History of Australia. Six Volumes. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1962–1987. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2c.)

For more historical sources, see Australia Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.

Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settling of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. They also profile the early settlers and prominent people. In addition, published histories of towns, districts, and states may contain histories of families. Even if your ancestor is not mentioned, information on other relatives may be included that may provide important clues for locating your ancestor. Local histories may also suggest other records to search. They may be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family and about the community and environment in which your family lived.

Local histories are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Bibliographies of national, state, and local histories are available for Australia and many of its states. These biographies are listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under: